So, the morning of June 3, we were on the beach for awhile in Destin, yet later that day, we were due to hit the rehearsal dinner a few miles from the condo. Again, traffic was ridiculous down there, so any trip back and forth wasn’t trivial. We hit the venue late-afternoon and, considering it was early June and we were all mostly dressed up, the temperature wasn’t all that crazy. Definitely warm, but not unbearable.
The venue was pretty cool! It was a building with plenty of space, and a kitchen (that we didn’t need), as well as another out-building where the bridal party could get ready the next day.
The rehearsal didn’t take all that long, of course, so we got some pictures, met the other half of the family, and kind of went through the motions so we’d be ready for the next day. After we were done, we went to a very nice restaurant called Marina Cafe for seafood that had a lovely ocean view. The dinner was mostly uneventful, but everyone had a great time!
The next day involved a lot of back-and-forth, as Meg and Brooke needed to be with the bridal party at points, so Calvin and I had to shuttle people back and forth, and get lunch to take to them while they were all getting their hair done. Calvin went to the arcade with Uncle Jimmy for a bit, so he was entertained well enough, whereas I just had to field text messages and load stuff up when requested.
The wedding itself was lovely, of course! The weather was (again) surprisingly beautiful, despite being in Florida in June. My one complaint was that there were quite a few folks off partying in the bay while the wedding was going on, which obviously no one could do anything about. The wedding only took 20 minutes or so, but being able to hear everything was a challenge at time. Still, everyone looked and felt great, and that’s what matters most!
Calvin didn’t have any duties for the wedding, really, but Meg was handing out bubbles to folks as they came in, along with the groom’s niece. She was happy to help out, but Calvin was just happy to wear a jacket and tie. And getting super cool sunglasses as a wedding favor was extra special. 🙂
The dinner was mostly standard fare, with the speeches, cake cutting, etc. Rachel’s speech was really good, as was the Best Man’s speech, which was a pleasant surprise compared with other weddings we’ve attended! Again though, the food was good, the cupcakes were good, and everything came out really well!
The reception moved outside for dancing under the lights after dinner was done! Steve and I had gone to Sam’s a few days prior to stock up the bar and, though lots was had that night, we still didn’t go through nearly as much as we bought. I can only assume that they’re still working on it post-wedding.
The next day, we all convened at the beach one last time before we took off. The rest of the family hung out another day or so, whereas we had to head back to Marshall so Brooke could start her new job in a few days!
We loaded up and headed out by noon-ish that Saturday and took off for Tennessee, heading on a different route than we did on the way down. The plan was “speed” this time, rather than a more lackadaisical fashion as we did on the way down. We made it as far as Franklin, TN that day, after stopping at a Panera for dinner (turns out both kids found things to eat there, so we need to add that to the list as a place to stop on road trips).
Sunday, we pushed it and made it home by mid-afternoon, giving us enough time to reset a bit and get some laundry started before Brooke’s new job started the next day. In the end, Yellowstone was probably more the vacation for 2021 whereas Destin was more of a trip, but both gave us a wide variety of experiences within a month of each other! In retrospect (as I’m writing this quite awhile after we actually went…obviously….), we’re glad we took these trips in May/June rather than now, because it sounds like just about everywhere in the US is inundated with tourists. Hopefully it calms down by next year when we go to the west coast!
We found out months ago that Brooke’s sister was getting married (yay!), but the wedding was going to be in Destin, FL on June 4th. Of course, when we found out about this, we’d already begun making plans for our Yellowstone trip. It was a lot of driving (and we ended up with two cracks in our windshield between these two trips, for the record), but made the most of it!
Brooke ended up starting a new job in early-June, so we timed things where she could end her previous commitments and take the time off where we could make our way to Florida without having to do it in one shot.
As such, there was a lot of driving that we tried spreading out over a few days. The first target was New Orleans, but we stayed in Natchez, MS that first night. On the way down, we stopped for dinner at a place called The Dock for some seafood. The experience was….fine, though the folks out on their boat docked at the literal….dock…were rather “impaired,” so we didn’t stay outside very long. The food was pretty decent, though the parking lot could have been better…
The hotel also could have left a bit to be desired. The hotel itself was alright, but it wasn’t the cleanest we’d experienced and, more importantly, we rolled in to find out the TV didn’t work and couldn’t be fixed until after Memorial Day (um…days after we would be there…). So yeah, we arrived late enough that it wasn’t a huge deal, but still wasn’t great…
The next day, the drive to New Orleans took maybe 4 or 5 hours, so it was a relatively short hike for us, giving us some time in Louisiana before we’d head to Florida. When we arrived, we were too early for our hotel to be ready, so we made plans to hit up Central Grocery to grab muffalettas (for Brooke and me….the kids got other stuff we’d brought along…).
We parked maybe 5 blocks away from the French Quarter, but passed Louis Armstrong Park on our way, so we figured we’d return there to actually eat. It was a nice respite from a long drive, and a beautiful, albeit warm, day.
Walking around the French Quarter was something of a rude awakening. We’ve only been around a lot of people a few times in 2021 and, well, New Orleans sure felt like 2020 never happened. TONS of people. Everywhere.
Anyway, after we finished off lunch, we had an appointment just outside of town at an alligator farm, which wasn’t really a “farm,” per se, but more of a preserve where alligators tend to live. We went off on a boat (kind of a pontoon, but not really…) and saw a ton of ‘gators out in the bayou. The dude running the tour was tossing big marshmallows out toward the boat, drawing in multiple alligators and giving us some of the history of the area. Apparently, the tour company bought some acreage in that area, and they try to maintain it in order to privately take folks out while also preventing randos from coming in and hunting alligators (by the way, “alligator season” is a thing down there).
The tour was pretty cool! It wasn’t horrifically expensive and lasted at least an hour and a half. The tour guide definitely had his schtick , but it was an entertaining experience and we all got to hold an alligator (something I never thought I’d say/type).
We returned to New Orleans to get our hotel in order, only to find it wasn’t ready yet (not the first time this would happen on this trip…). We killed 45 minutes by walking to the Mississippi River (pictured at the top) and generally getting our bearings.
After we finally got into our room, we found a restaurant to visit a few blocks away. We went down, found out it would be a 45 minute wait (again, the aforementioned “metric ton of people” in town…), and decided to hang out. Calvin and I walked down to Bourbon St. to grab some drinks to bide our time a bit, leaving Brooke and Meg in the virtual line…
….that ended up lasting 2 hours…. Again, there were tons of folks in town, so just about everywhere had a long line, but this one was quite a bit longer than we were expecting. Calvin and Meg did the best they could, of course, but eating dinner after 8:00 is something they are most definitely not used to.
The next morning, we got up in the 7:00 hour and headed toward Cafe du Monde for beignets for breakfast….and got in line…for another hour and a half!!! We’d been seeing headlines about Yellowstone and how lines were 50% greater than 2019 numbers, but I guess we weren’t expecting New Orleans to be this crazy.
In the end, the kids said it was “worth it,” though. And we ate a lot of beignets.
After breakfast, we headed down the road to Pensacola to meet up with more of the Baumann clan. More on that later!
For our last full day at Yellowstone, we first took a trip to an area called Artists Paintpots. We were looking for somewhere to hike where there wouldn’t be a ton of folks, so this looked like it fit the bill. We ended up having to park at the entrance to the parking lot because it was still blocked off for winter.
The “trail,” as we’d seen in other places, was mostly boardwalk. Still, the weather was beautiful and we were alone with the surroundings, so it was a nice change compared with what else we’d seen.
The “paintpots” name came from the bubbling pools of travertine (read: calcium carbonate) that looked like a white magma of sorts. There weren’t that many examples, per se, of this particular formation, but the ones we saw were still pretty impressive! They were also relatively loud, as it sounded like bubbling goo moreso than the other pools we’d seen before (again: magma).
After that, we didn’t really have much of a plan, but since the weather was so great, we figured it was worth a return trip to Grand Prismatic. The sun was shining, the temperature was above freezing, and we hoped we’d actually be able to see things a bit more clearly.
First we got stuck behind some bison, though. This was not going to be the last time….
As we’d hoped, the weather was much better, so we could see things much more clearly! Seriously, it was a night-and-day difference.
We did note, though, that crowds were starting to heat up a bit. It was Thursday, by this point, so now we were getting close to the other arms of the park opening up to let in more people. This traffic came in the same way we did, but the line to get into the park each morning was getting longer and longer. Grand Prismatic definitely had more people there than we’d seen earlier that week.
Of all the sites we saw, Grand Prismatic was probably my favorite. Sure, Old Faithful is impressive, but all of the varied colors and pools at Grand Prismatic were a bit more memorable for me, personally.
See? Look at that happy family. 🙂
As we left Grand Prismatic, we were stuck for 20 minutes behind 3 bison heading in the same direction. In our lane. And because we were going around a curve, all of the cars heading in the opposite direction had to slow down and take pictures of the bison…each and every time…. It was truly infuriating. Still, can’t visit Yellowstone without a story like that, I suppose.
The next day, we left through the East Entrance near Cody, WY. We got to pass by Lake Yellowstone on the way out, which still had a great deal of ice on it. We also passed by some vistas where we hoped to see some bears, but alas, we’ll have to try again our next time out. We actually wanted to leave through Lamar Valley, where there should be all kinds of wildlife, but it would have added an hour or two to our trip due to road construction, so we’ll have to do that next time, too.
The trip home was mostly uneventful and took up a lot of driving time, but we did stop in Thermopolis, WY for a few hours that afternoon that we left the park. It’s an indoor and outdoor pool set with a few slides that have hot spring water piped in for patrons to swim in. Pretty neat, honestly, though it didn’t smell particularly great! The kids went down the large slides multiple times (20 times or so for Meg…which may or may not have made her feel sick in the car later that afternoon…). It was a relatively cheap excursion on the way home that will hopefully stick in the kids’ memories for years to come!
I think that’s about it! More happened, of course, but I’m wordy enough as it is, so we’re going to stop there. As a brief side-note, the month of May got kinda busy for us (the kids went back to school for two weeks and I had to prep for my summer classes), and then we went to Florida for another long trip.
The next day was Wednesday, which normally back home would be a “distance learning day.” As we were in a different time zone, we brought a Chromebook (or two…) along so Calvin and Meg could join in on their morning calls if they/we were available. It turned out that Calvin was the only one needed that morning. He had a good time telling his classmates about what he’d seen so far, but then he had to do some math problems, so his fun was short lived.
We hit the road to explore another end of the park, aiming for Mammoth Hot Springs. We stopped at a few hydrothermal features on the way, as the brisk, cool air of the morning made for some nice views. There were relatively few clouds in the sky this time, too, so the weather overall was substantially better for viewing the park!
Mammoth Hot Springs provided some interesting rock formations called travertine (which is, well, calcium carbonate…), where minerals bubbled up from beneath the surface for years, leading to neat terraces. There were a decent number of folks at Mammoth, so it started getting more difficult to avoid people. Thankfully, we were outside, so we weren’t all that concerned about the ongoing pandemic.
There was limited hiking around Mammoth, most of which was on boardwalks (some of which got kinda steep), but we did find a trail/road combo that took us away from all the people.
The kids dealt with it well initially, but grew tired as the morning drew on. We were also fighting with the weather changes a bit, where we had layers on like the day before, but this time we felt the heat of the sun, so we had to lose some layers and carry them with us. Not a big deal, but somewhat unexpected given the weather experience from just a day before!
After we finished up at Mammoth Hot Springs, we went into the nearby town for a picnic lunch and some ice cream from the general store. It was a beautiful day, so it was a nice opportunity to regroup a bit and decide what the rest of the day would entail.
While we were at Mammoth Hot Springs, we also finally saw some elk. We saw one when we first approached the initial travertine formation, but we saw more in the town outside of the formations. In all, we probably saw 6 or 7 elk while we were in that area.
While we were out in the northern-ish part of the park, we figured we should head toward the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which gets its name for obvious reasons. Given that we’ve actually been to the Grand Canyon, the Yellowstone version wasn’t quite as impressive, but we still got some great views in!
Unfortunately, due to the fact that half the park was still shut down, we were limited in what we could do. Brooke wanted to hike down to the bottom of the canyon, but sadly that wasn’t an option. To be fair, the trails around this area were pretty slushy still, so even if we had gone, it would have gotten messy…
Still, the view of the waterfalls was pretty nice. 🙂
That night, Brooke had the idea that we should do “TV dinners.” We had a microwave and fridge, so it provided a relatively cheap option while also giving everyone something, er….different…for dinner on this trip.
Calvin had fish sticks and Meg had a rigatoni dish. They were pretty pleased with this arrangement, though personally, I feel like my chicken alfredo wasn’t all that impressive. It was fine, but…not really as much as I’d want for dinner. Maybe lunch. Not dinner. Ah well.
As with the other nights on this trip, we capped off the evening playing Hearts. It’s a game that I’d played before, though it’d been years, but we figured Calvin would be old enough to handle it. For the most part, he could do it, but keeping his attention (and dealing with strategy…) was still challenging. Brooke was winning by a lot for the first night, but Meg took over and ended up absolutely destroying everyone in the end. She still won’t tell us what her strategy was…
We had this grand plan in mind for our vacation this year. Reservations were made, days were claimed to be taken off, and tents were being bought in preparation for the journey. The plan was that we would drive out to Yellowstone National Park and camp at one of their campgrounds, then stay at an Airbnb closer to Grand Teton National Park for another few days, then circle down through Colorado and see Brooke’s cousin.
So yeah, because we’ve got a whole other thread of posts for state park visits, I’m going to make separate posts about those. Here, I’m going to speak more broadly about the trip.
Pilot Knob is about 4.5 hrs from Marshall, and luckily for us, St. James, MO is on the way, so we stopped off at our favorite winery in the state, Heinrichshaus, to pick up some bottles. While we were there, we had a picnic lunch and enjoyed being out of the car for a bit. It was a pretty short stop, but it had been a few years since we were last there (Meg and I stopped in last Spring on the return trip from an excursion with my Biology students,, but we didn’t exactly “stock up”).
That afternoon, we stopped off at the Huzzah Conservation Area to play in the water for a bit. Really, it was just an excuse for Brooke and I to relax with our feet in the water and let the kids mess around in a fast-moving float trip river.
We only stayed for an hour or so, but the kids could have done that all afternoon. They’d float their bodies while their hands kinda shuffled them along with the current, and then they’d do it again, and again, and again. It was like sledding.
There weren’t many options for where to stay in Pilot Knob or Ironton (which is practically attached…), and we weren’t thrilled with the prospect of camping in late-July humidity, so Brooke booked us a room at the Fort Davidson Hotel. It has an attached restaurant with a nice patio, it had exterior access to the room, and it had an outdoor pool, so we figured it was a relatively safe bet. The place turned out to be pretty nice, all things considered! We had an issue with the toilet constantly running, but the owner of the hotel came right over and took care of it for us. That night, I went out to Casey’s to get pizza, so the kids were more than satisfied.
The next morning, we went to Elephant Rocks (more on that in another post), and thankfully, it wasn’t all that crowded. More folks kept showing up and, as we were being responsible human beings, we tried avoiding others to the best of our ability, so it was good that we went relatively early so we could leave before the crowds got really bad.
That afternoon was mostly spent out by the pool! The kids were pretty proud of themselves swimming in the 11 ft deep end of the pool for much of the time. Meg was able to get diving sticks from the very bottom, though it took her some practice to get there. Calvin touched the bottom a few times, but again, he hadn’t really done that before, so diving from the surface was tough!
That night, we ate at the attached restaurant. We had the option of eating inside or outside, but the patio was nice enough and the weather wasn’t too bad, so we were comfortable. The kids got some Fitz’s soft drinks and their beer selection was surprisingly decent, considering how far Pilot Knob is from….er….anywhere… And my fried catfish was spectacular.
Across the street from the restaurant sits the namesake of the hotel: Fort Davidson. It was my first “earthen fort” that I’d ever visited, so there wasn’t really all that much to see aside from a hill with grass on it in the shape of a square. Apparently, the Union were holding the fort and then lost a battle with the Confederacy, who then subsequently took over.
So yeah, it was a nice evening stroll after eating way too much. An excuse to walk around a bit like normal people for a change. 🙂
The next morning, we went to Taum Sauk Mountain, and that afternoon, we went to Johnson’s Shut-Ins. Again, I’ll have separate posts about those, but here, I’ll point out that Taum Sauk was a nice little hike where we got to sit and enjoy some small waterfalls, but Johnson’s Shut-Ins was a madhouse. We figured on a Sunday afternoon, the “St. Louis Crowd” would have waned a bit as they were all heading back home, but nope…totally wrong on that one… We had to park almost a mile away from the main area of the park, and it was very difficult to maintain any form of social distancing, let alone 6 ft. We only stayed for an hour or so, and while the kids would have liked to have stayed a little more (and seen more of the park), we just didn’t feel comfortable.
So we went back to the hotel and swam there again! 🙂
That evening, we went to a Mexican restaurant in Ironton called Checo’s that was pretty good. Not a lot of good mask-wearing in that building either, but we were seated relatively far from anyone else, so we felt at least okay about it.
In the evenings, we played some games that we brought alone. The first night, we played Skip-Bo, which is a family favorite. The second night, we played a family edition of Trivial Pursuit that actually worked shockingly well. The kids get their own set of cards separate from the adult-level cards, and we think they did a good job of getting that mix right.
Monday morning, we decided to hit up Meremec Caverns on our return trip home, as Onandoga Cave was closed and we had played up how cool caves can be (literally and figuratively).
The kids definitely enjoyed it! I’m not sure I’ve ever been there, though I’ve been to others in the state like Mark Twain Cave, Bridal Cave, and Jacob’s Cave. Like those, this one is definitely a tourist trap, but again, it provided a bit of “spectacle” for the kids to experience. Hopefully they’ll remember it!
We were wearing masks, but very few others in our tour group was. Our tour guide did, but most of the folks with us weren’t doing their part. When we passed other tour groups, it looked like there were others there wearing them, but the majority of the visitors didn’t have them on. Definitely disconcerting.
Again, I think the kids enjoyed it quite a bit, and they did a great job of following directions and listening to the tour guide as he pointed out various aspects of the cave. They also very much enjoyed when they turned all the lights out, just how dark it gets in there. Of course, as we were vacationing in southern Missouri in late-July, we didn’t have jackets with us…..so next time, we should try to remember to bring long sleeves. Calving got a little chilly after being in there for an hour, but overall, they did a good job!
After we finished at Meremec Caverns, we continued home via Highway 50! Mostly, it’s because that was a different route than we took to get home (it also rained quite a bit on our return trip, so that was lovely…..), but the real reason was that we would pass through Jefferson City a little after lunch time:
For the record, Brooke did not eat that entire banana split. Meg did eat the mint chocolate chip sundae in its entirety, though. And she didn’t throw up, for the record.
That’s it! We had a ton of laundry to do after this, but for an extended weekend trip, it was “good enough” to tide us over until next year. We’ll have to double back and get to Yellowstone eventually, but assuming things get better in time, next year’s plan is a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway ending at Disneyland!
Brooke wanted to go on a little vacation this year, but wanted to go a bit early in the summer to avoid being far away from home when she’s closer to her due date. She was also thinking this would be a good time to take Meg to “see the ocean” and experience a beach, as we likely won’t be going very far next year with a newborn.
Thus, she looked into a few options and we decided to head down toward Biloxi, MS, a place neither of us had been to before, but close to the ocean (or “gulf,” technically). This was a relatively short trip, as we spent two days driving, and two full days actually at our destination.
We got up last week on Wednesday morning relatively early, leaving just after 6:00 am. We expected a 9+ hr drive, based on Google Maps, most of which would be a straight shot down I-55 towards New Orleans, cutting off on US-49 at Jackson, MS. Unfortunately, Google didn’t understand that US-49 is filled with small towns and stoplights, so our 9+ hr trip became an 11 hr trip…grrrr… Meg stayed entertained for most of the trip, with an assortment of books, stickers, and movies, and thankfully was able to sleep for a few hours that afternoon. In total, the trip down really wasn’t all that bad, despite the traffic lights.
Technically, we stayed in Ocean Springs, which sits northeast of Biloxi. Our hotel was maybe 10-15 min from the nearest public beach, so we checked it out Wednesday night. After a long day in the car, though, we grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant and headed back to the hotel to go to sleep (even I was asleep by 9:30…).
The next day, we drove to Gulfport, where we boarded a ferry to Ship Island, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. After an hour (and a brief dolphin sighting), we crossed the island to the Gulf of Mexico side, where Meg played in the sand for 4 hours. The high was in the low 80s that day and, while it was quite comfortable out on the beach in a swimsuit, it wasn’t quite warm enough to get into the water. Then again, as Meg can’t swim yet, we probably wouldn’t have been out there much, anyway. Still, she had a good time dipping her toes in and letting the waves chase her.
There was also a Civil War-era structure, Fort Massachusetts, to see. It’s amazing that building has survived so many hurricanes. There were displays of pictures showing how buried everything got during Hurricane Katrina, suggesting it was quite an undertaking to restore it yet again. Still, it was an interesting bit of history to see while on the island.
After we were done at the beach, we went back to the hotel for a few hours. Meg fell asleep in the car on the way back, and then fell asleep again on her bed once we got back to the hotel. Once we finally convinced her to get up, we went to a good seafood restaurant in Gulfport and filled up on plenty of fried fish. Pretty sure I ate enough to never eat again.
The next day was rainy, so we didn’t do all that much. We still took some time, between showers, to hit the other portion of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, closer to the bayous. This was your typical national park visitor center-type exhibit, complete with a video describing the history of the area, and some child-friendly activities. The bayous were cool to see, but we didn’t observe much wildlife. We had a good time getting Meg to help us search for alligators, though.
The rest of the ride home was mostly uneventful, though the amount of time in the car and the constant proximity with her parents had finally worn on Meg. This was a looooooooong 11 hr drive home…but, we survived. 🙂
It was a good trip overall! A nice little excursion for a few days, seeing new places and having new experiences. Though Meg likely won’t remember this particular trip, we can at least point to the seashells in her fish bowl and say “you found those down in Mississippi when you were three.”
Brooke and I went on a float trip over the last few days… Sunday to Tuesday seemed like the best time to do it, as we’d be avoiding all the crowds, and it wouldn’t be in the dead center of the week, which would just disrupt all kinds of other things. We went down to Jacks Fork River, near Eminence, MO for a 24 mi, 2-night trip.
The weather was absolutely perfect. The high was supposed to be in the upper-80s or lower-90s, but it never felt like it really got above 85 F while we were along the river. The sun was out the whole time, it never rained, there was a distinct lack of humidity, and there were no mosquitoes (although, there were plenty of other flies and gnats…not as big a deal, though). I’ve posted some pictures up on Picasa if you want to check them out.
We got started Sunday afternoon and floated for a few hours, then spent most of the day floating on Monday (around 9:00 am to 4:00 pm). On Tuesday morning, it only took us 45 min or so to get to our final destination, indicating that we’d gone 23 of the 24 miles by the end of Monday…which pretty much rocked. It got us back to St. Louis in plenty of time for Brooke to grab a shower and relax before heading off to teach her ACT Prep class.
As you’ll see in the photos, we had quite a bit of fun taking pictures with the new camera. (Note: we were quite careful with it…taking it along in a water-proof container and only taking it out on shore…never whilst in the boat) We got to toy with the shutter and aperture settings, which are things I’d never really experimented with. The ability to take as many pictures as you want on an 8 GB card makes it easy to toy around and see what you can make happen. We took, like, 50 pictures of the fire on Monday night while messing around with those settings (I’ve only posted a few of those, though).
Anyway, it was an excellent trip and we’ll probably need to do it again! Likely not this year, but who knows…
That’s a picture from I-55 in northern Arkansas. Terrible place. Seriously. Their Department of Transportation has got to be the most inept in the nation. See the clear skies?! It snowed the DAY BEFORE and there was ice all over the place. It took us over an hour to go 15-20 miles toward Memphis.
Either way, that was on the way down to Hot Springs, AR. Brooke decided she wanted to go on a little trip, just to get away for a little bit. It’s a relatively easy drive (minus the aforementioned DOT from Arkansas), and a place neither of us had ever been to.
Anyway, it was a pretty good trip! Brooke made reservations at Hilltop Manor, a bed-and-breakfast right by the national park. The weather was pretty awesome, for the most part, so we spent Monday walking around the town, went up to the top of the mountain and went up in the observation tower, then walked along Bath House Row (and toured an old bath house maintained by the National Park Service), and otherwise chilled for the rest of the day in front of a fire place, reading and gaming (on the DS, of course :-)).
The trip back was less eventful than the one down, so that was a big plus. In any event, I’m glad to be back and catch up on all the TV shows we didn’t get to last week. And, maybe even get some science done tomorrow…